Authors: Melody Carlson
Tags: #General Fiction, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)
DJ couldn’t stop herself. The next instant she was standing defensively by Casey’s side. “What’s going on here?” She directed this question to Seth.
“None of your business,” he snapped back.
Casey nodded, but her eyes looked troubled. “It’s okay.”
“It doesn’t look okay,” DJ persisted. “I just saw Seth grab and shake you.”
“Really,” Casey insisted. “It’s okay.”
“And it’s none of your business anyway.” Seth glared at DJ.
DJ took a step closer to Seth. “Actually, it is my business. Casey is my friend. And if I thought you were abusing her, I wouldn’t just sit around and watch.”
“I’m not abusing her.” He forced a smile now. “We were just playing around. Lighten up, DJ.”
“Yeah,” Casey added. “Lighten up.”
DJ didn’t know what to do. She just looked from one to the other, and then the bell rang. “Maybe you guys need to lighten up too,” she said evenly. Then she turned and walked away. And although she was trying to act confident and slightly nonchalant, she felt shaken and unsettled. What had really been going on just then? And if Seth felt comfortable treating Casey like that when lots of people were around, what might he do when they were alone? Despite Seth’s claim that it was none of her business, DJ knew that she was going to make it her business. And before the sun went down tonight, she and Casey were going to sit down and talk.
AS IT TURNED OUT
the sun went down and came up again, and still DJ had been unable to corner Casey for a conversation. Now it was Friday night and it seemed that all the Carter House girls had plans to go out. DJ and Taylor were going with Conner and Harry to the Friday night art walk in town. Rhiannon was helping Bradford at his mom’s gallery. Eliza and Kriti were headed for New York, staying at Kriti’s house, then going with Lane and Josh to a Broadway show and late dinner.
“So what are you and Seth up to tonight?” DJ asked Casey after she finally managed to track her down in the library, of all places. Okay, she had her books out like she was studying, but DJ had her suspicions. It seemed more like a convenient hideout—a way to avoid DJ.
Casey stacked her books neatly and reached for her bag. “Just a movie,” she said casually.
“I’m not sure.” She looked at her watch. “But he should be here any minute.”
DJ moved toward the window that faced the street and looked out. “He’s not here yet,” she informed her.
“Oh.” Casey drummed her fingers on the stacked books.
“I want to talk to you, Casey.”
“About what?” Casey looked uneasy.
DJ thought for a moment. She knew she should be careful. “First of all, I’m sorry I kind of butted in on you and Seth yesterday. I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“It’s just that it caught me by surprise.”
“Really, we were just playing around. No big deal.”
“But that’s not the only thing, Case.” DJ glanced out the window again, then turned to Casey. “It just feels like you’ve pushed me away. Like we’re not even friends anymore.”
“But we never talk.”
“I’ve been busy, DJ. Uber-busy”
“I know. We all are. But that’s never kept us from talking before. It feels like you’re avoiding me.”
“That’s crazy. Why would I avoid you?” Casey looped the handle of her bag over her shoulder, like she was ready to bolt.
“I don’t know. But I just thought it might help to talk.”
“Except that Seth will be here any—”
“I’m watching for him. He’s
“What’s going on with you, Casey?” DJ implored. “Is it something between you and Seth? Is he treating you badly?”
“I don’t know why you’re always accusing him of that.”
“I’m not accusing anyone of—”
“You are too. It’s like you hate him, DJ. It’s like you think you’re better than him. And you don’t even know him. Not like I do.”
“See!” Casey pointed her finger. “There you go, making insinuations.”
“I’m not making—”
“Yes, you are. You think the worst of him. And that means you think the worst of me. And if that’s how you think, how are we supposed to be friends?”
DJ didn’t know what to say.
“Seth loves me, DJ.”
DJ blinked. “He loves you?”
“Yes! Why is that so hard to believe?”
She shrugged. “It just didn’t look very loving when he shook you like that.”
“See, there you go jumping to conclusions again.”
“I know what I saw, Casey. That was not a loving thing to do.”
“Who died and made you the expert on love?”
DJ sighed. This was not going the way she’d planned. “Look, Casey, I don’t claim to be an expert on anything. And maybe I’m all wrong about Seth. In fact, I hope I am. But I still want to be your friend, okay? I want you to be able to talk to me…you know, if you ever need to. That’s all I’m saying. Do you get that?”
Casey nodded, but her expression was doubtful.
“I’m sorry if I stepped on your toes. You know me, Case, I’m not a great diplomat. I usually just call it the way I see it.”
“I know.” Casey sniffed with indignation. “But sometimes the way you call it hurts.”
“I’m sorry.” DJ turned and looked out the window in time to see a car pulling up. “And it looks like Seth’s here anyway.”
Before DJ could even turn around, Casey was gone. DJ stood watching out the window. Casey hadn’t waited for Seth to come up to the house. And for all DJ knew, maybe he never
came up to the house. In fact, he didn’t even get out of the car; he just sat there waiting in the driver’s seat. Casey was barely in the car when he took off. How gallant.
DJ sat down in the old leather chair at the desk and considered the situation. Why was it that someone like Casey someone who grew up in a church-going Christian home with a strong father figure, could settle for so little in a guy? And why was it that Casey was willing to be treated the way that DJ suspected Seth treated her? Was it simply a case of low self-esteem? Or was she some sort of masochist? What was going on in Casey’s head?
“Hey,” called Taylor. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Are you still on for the art walk tonight?”
“Of course.” DJ slowly stood.
“No, I just had a little chat with Casey.” DJ had already told Taylor about the grabbing/shaking incident at school. Taylor hadn’t even been surprised.
“Didn’t go too well?”
“I’m sure you can imagine. I probably said everything you told me not to say.”
“Sometimes people can only see what they want to see. Take it from me, I know this personally.”
“I suppose…but I just wanted Casey to know I’m here for her…if she needs to talk.”
“I’m sure she knows that already, DJ.”
“I’m not so sure. And besides, I think I managed to thoroughly offend her—by dissing her boyfriend.”
“Well, you tried. Anyway, Harry just called and he wanted to know if we were okay to get dinner first. He said that he and Conner are starving and if they don’t eat before the art walk, they will perish.”
DJ grinned. “No problem. I’m with them.”
Taylor called Harry back and within minutes the guys arrived in Harry’s Jeep. But, unlike Seth, both these guys came to the front door and both of them opened the car doors for the girls. And, although DJ knew it was only a gesture, she also knew that it was more than just a surface thing. And she appreciated it.
“You know what still amazes me?” Taylor said as the four of them were strolling down Main Street toward Bradford’s mom’s gallery and their final stop on the art walk.
“No, what?” ventured DJ.
“That we can have fun like this”—Taylor grinned—“without alcohol and stupid partying.”
Harry nodded. “And no worries about getting dragged into City Hall and being booked for underage drinking.”
“And no hangovers.” Conner jabbed Harry with his elbow. “I still remember how wiped out you got on that ski trip to Vermont. You were in bad shape, man.”
Harry laughed. “Yeah, can’t say I miss that.”
“Me neither,” added Taylor.
“As for me,” DJ said, “I never liked the taste of alcohol in the first place. And I always hated what I saw it doing to my friends.”
“Hey, that looks like Seth’s car.” Conner pointed to a small red car crossing an intersection on Main Street.
“I thought they were at a movie.” DJ studied the sports car as it zipped out of sight. “But they’re going the wrong way.”
“Looks like they’re headed for the beach,” Taylor observed as they paused in front of the Mockingbird Gallery.
“Anyone’s guess as to why they’re going there,” Harry said lightly as he opened the plate-glass door, then waited until the girls went inside.
DJ let out a frustrated sigh. She had no doubts about what Harry was insinuating. And, although it made her mad to hear him say it, she knew that it probably was true. And, really, why should it surprise her? Everyone knew what Seth was like. Everyone except Casey, that is. Or maybe DJ was wrong. Maybe Casey knew exactly who Seth was…but maybe she just didn’t care.
“Hey, it’s about time you guys showed up,” said Rhiannon as she held out a platter of cheese and crackers to them. “I’ve been watching for you.”
“We saved the best for last,” Taylor said as she popped a piece of cheese into her mouth.
“Well, move around and act interested,” Rhiannon said quietly. “Gabrielle is feeling a little blue that more people didn’t show up.”
“Maybe I don’t have to act,” Taylor told her. “Maybe I
Rhiannon beamed. “Great. And if I show you a piece that you buy, Gabrielle promised me a commission.”
“So show me what you think is good.” Taylor nodded toward Harry and, putting on airs, said, “Come on, dahling, let’s do some art shopping. Perhaps we’ll find a little something for Mother’s Day.”
“Brilliant idea,” agreed Harry in a perfect British accent. “I’m sure my mum would appreciate a nice bit of art.”
Several people in the gallery watched as Rhiannon led the handsome couple around. DJ suppressed a giggle as Harry continued in his Brit accent and Taylor looked at paintings that had to be beyond her budget.
“Serious shoppers, eh?” Bradford chuckled as he joined Conner and DJ.
“For your mom’s sake, let’s hope so,” DJ said.
And, as it turned out, Harry and Taylor each made a purchase. Harry bought a hand-carved wooden bowl and Taylor got her mom a beautiful hand-thrown ceramic pitcher. “It’s called raku,” she explained to DJ. “Rhiannon said that means it was fired using an outdoor pit.”
“It’s gorgeous,” DJ told her. “Every time you turn it, I see a different color.”
“I can gift wrap these for you guys,” Rhiannon offered, “if you’re not in a hurry.”
So while they waited, DJ wandered around the gallery again. She wondered what it would feel like to be buying her mom a Mother’s Day gift. She couldn’t actually remember buying a Mother’s Day gift. She remembered her dad got Mom a toaster oven once and said it was from both of them. But when DJ saw Mom’s disappointment in the appliance, she privately confessed that it hadn’t been her choice. After the divorce, money had been tight, so DJ had made homemade cards and served breakfast in bed with flowers from the yard, and her mom had always seemed appreciative. And then she was killed in the car wreck…and DJ never got a chance to get her anything really nice. DJ stood admiring a small seascape painting. It was by a local painter and the scene looked familiar.
“That’s pretty, isn’t it?” Conner said as he came to stand beside her.
DJ nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat. “I was just thinking it’s the kind of thing my mom would’ve loved.”
Conner reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. “You miss her sometimes, don’t you?”
She nodded again. “Yeah…it usually catches me by surprise.”
“I bet your grandmother misses her too.”
DJ considered this. “Yeah…you’re probably right.” She took in a deep breath. “You know, I’ll bet my grandmother would like this painting.”
“So…” Bradford joined them, rubbing his hands together like a hungry salesman. “Can I interest you in this lovely acrylic? It’s small but well done. And the artist is dead, so it’s probably worth a lot.”
DJ turned and looked at him. “Actually, I think I’d like to buy it.”
“Really?” He blinked. “I mean, I wasn’t seriously trying to get you—”
“I don’t have the cash on me, but if your mom could hold it for a couple of days, I’ll get some money from my savings on Monday.”
“Yeah, sure, if you really want it, DJ.”
He reached out and shook her hand. “It’s a deal.”
DJ had no idea how Grandmother would react to this slightly extravagant gift, not to mention the fact that DJ would have to go into her college savings to purchase it, but DJ knew it was something she wanted to do.
Gabrielle left the older couple she’d been talking with and came over to join DJ and Conner and the others. “You kids,” she said happily. “I’m so glad you came by tonight. And Bradford tells me that you’re not just window-shopping either.”
“You have some beautiful pieces here,” Taylor told her.
“Thank you. It’s so refreshing to see the younger generation with an appreciation for the arts.” She smiled as Rhiannon came out with the wrapped and neatly bagged gifts, handing one to Taylor and one to Harry. “And dear Rhiannon, you’ve been such a help to me tonight.” Gabrielle gave Rhiannon a big hug. “You kids are always welcome in my gallery!”
“And DJ wants to buy the Saltzer seascape,” Bradford proudly informed his mom.
Gabrielle looked genuinely surprised. “Oh, DJ, you have an excellent eye for art. And, really, that piece is a bargain. Andrew Saltzer died a couple of years ago. This is one of the last paintings he did. I only acquired it last week.”
DJ nodded. “That’s what Bradford said.”
“I told DJ we could hold it for her until Monday,” Bradford explained.
“Certainly.” Gabrielle grasped DJ’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “I’m happy to do that. Thank you.”
“Thank you,” DJ told her.
“Are you kids going over to hear the music at the coffeehouse tonight?” Gabrielle asked. “Or maybe it’s not your style of music.”
“Who’s playing?” Taylor asked with interest.
“Ben’s Blue Boys,” Gabrielle told them. “Ben’s an old friend. They play a West Coast style of jazz. Sort of like Coltrane sound.”
“Sounds good to me.” Taylor turned to the others. “I’m in.”
And so the six of them headed down the street to McHen-ry’s Coffee House, where they snagged the last available table and enjoyed jazz and coffee and each other’s company. It was really a great evening. But then DJ noticed a girl with short strawberry-blond hair, and for a moment she thought it was Casey. She felt disappointed when it wasn’t. She wondered what Casey was doing right now. And whatever it was, wouldn’t she be having more fun if she were here with them? Why didn’t she get it?